As expected, the Cleveland Browns have struggled this season.
Now at 0-10, the Browns have one goal in mind over their last six contests: win a game.
Cleveland has road matchups in Week 12 and 13, taking on the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers respectively before hosting the Green Bay Packers in Week 14 and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15. They will conclude their season with two road games, taking on the Chicago Bears in Week 16 and then the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17.
Therefore, the window is closing and the Browns organization is hungry and desperate for a victory. After going 1-15 last season and 3-13 in 2015, Cleveland has been a victim of four close losses this season, all coming by three points. In Week 1, they fell 21-18 to the Steelers before losing 31-28 to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, 17-14 against the New York Jets in Week 5 and then 12-9 in overtime in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans.
While the record is certainly embarrassing, the team could easily have a few wins under its belt and their defense has actually performed well for most of the season. The issue has been the blatant lack of offensive production, as evidenced by subpar quarterback play and the general lack of a running game.
In nine starts this season, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has completed 52.5 percent of his passes for 1,555 yards and five touchdowns and has rushed for another four scores. But, he has thrown 14 interceptions and has lost five fumbles in the process, making him the worst statistical starting QB in the entire NFL.
One of the major question marks surrounding the Browns offense has been the utilization of running back Duke Johnson Jr. Now in his third season, Johnson has been very productive during his limited opportunities this season, rushing 46 times for 240 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns while catching 46 of 60 targets for 414 yards and two more scores.
To put that into context, he has two of the team’s eight rushing touchdowns (four were by Kizer) and two of the team’s nine receiving touchdowns, despite being generally limited to passing-down snaps. He also leads all skill position players (except Kizer) on his team in total touchdowns.
Now in desperation mode, it appears as though the Browns are finally going to make Johnson a featured piece of the offense moving forward, which is something that Browns fans have been calling for all season long.
"We would like him on the field as much as possible in all situations because we believe in him as a player and a playmaker,” Browns running back coach Kirby Wilson said on Friday, per NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman. “So that's up to us as coaches and me in particular to make sure that he's always involved and always has a role in being out on the field at all times or as much as possible.”
It’s worth noting that Johnson had 13 touches in a 31-7 loss to the Bengals in Week 4. He only carried the ball four times for 13 yards, but had a touchdown on the ground and also caught a season-high nine passes (on nine targets) for 47 yards in that game. While the pass-catching numbers are skewed because of the game script (teams that are losing big generally pass the ball more), he still was able to get open a lot and create some positivity with his dynamic skill set.
Johnson’s season-high in touches came in Week 11 against the Detroit Lions when he had 16. Judging by the comments of his coach above, he might be in line for an increased workload against the Bengals on Sunday. As arguably the team’s best playmaker, feeding Johnson the ball certainly seems like a good idea for a team that is searching for answers and praying for a victory.
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